Agriculture ‘sidelined’

Africa’s food import bill is reportedly worth U$D 35 billion every year (excluding fish). The continent is losing billions to illegal and shadowy practices in fishing and forestry. If the central aim of growth is to improve lives and eradicate poverty, then agricultural growth is a highly efficient vehicle, says a panel of international experts who focuses on development in Africa.

According to the annual Africa Progress Report 2014 (APP) a flagship publication by ten prominent individuals, who advocate for equitable and sustainable development for Africa, the continent’s agricultural power has been ‘neglected’ –  despite the sector being the mainstay of most African economies.

Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations and Nobel laureate, chairs the APP panel, which has extensive networks of policy analysts across Africa.The report states that the vast majority of Africa’s poor lives and works in rural areas, most of them as smallholder farmers. “Unlocking the productive potential of agriculture would enable Africa’s farmers to strengthen their contribution to growth and to share more equitably in the benefits,” part of the report states. According to the Report the International Food Policy Research Institute has found that on average, agricultural growth reduces poverty roughly twice as much as growth in other sectors.

However, this relationship is not automatic, the report warns, citing Zambia’s recorded dramatic increase in maize yields over a five year period (2006-2011), yet poverty remains stagnant. “Underlying inequalities and government policy explain the discrepancy. Productivity gains in Zambia were concentrated on large commercial farms, largely as a result of large-scale fertilizer subsidies. Farms less than 1 hectare in size received on average 7 percent of the maize subsidy allocated to farms of 10-20 hectares,” the report states. The findings conclude that Zambia illustrates, that “some kinds” of agricultural growth are more effective than others at reducing poverty.

It believes that productivity gains in staple food production, as in Rwanda, may hold the key. “While export crops typically have higher value, staple crop production is more effective at spreading growth across the economy and reducing poverty – because staple crops have a larger role in national economies and a central role in the livelihoods of the poor. Regionally produced food staples have a very large potential to replace imported food, which points to a promising avenue for growth that reduces poverty,” it states. The APP points out that the success of both Ethiopia and Rwanda can be traced in no small measure to the role of agriculture, whose impact on poverty has been fuelled by “a spectacular increase” in yields.

The 164-page report is titled: “Grain Fish Money – Financing Africa’s green and blue revolutions.”  The APP members are: Michel Camdessus, Peter Elgen, Bob Geldof, Graca Machel, Strive Masiyiwa, Olusegun Obasanjo, Linah Mohohlo, Robert Rubin and Tidjane Thiam.

Author: Petunia Thulo

Thulo has a degree in B.A Communications and Honors degree in Journalism. She is currently completing her Masters degree in Management and Development from the North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus. The focus study in her Masters degree is around Corporate Social Responsibility in the Mining sector. Thulo has worked in the newsrooms for some of the Media24 Community Newspapers both in the North West Province as well as in the Western Cape Province.

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